Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Water Law?

Okay, here's one I hadn't thought about.  Someone just gave me a short article[1] detailing the effects of dehydration on mental and physical performance.  I am no fitness fanatic, but a couple of things jumped out at me.

Chronic dehydration afflicts about three fourths of Americans.  That fact matters for our students because two of the effects of dehydration are daytime fatigue (dehydration is the most common cause) and impaired mental processes, including weakened short-term memory and difficulty focusing on both computer screens and the printed page.

And you thought water law was all about riparian rights.(dbw)

Water or Coke, Buzz Saw: Official Publication of the Rotary Club of Kansas City, Missouri Vol 90, 4.

July 27, 2006 in Advice, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Multitasking and Law School Learning Are a Bad Mix

A new study suggests that while students may be able to multitask as they are learning, "distractions affect the way people learn, making the knowledge they gain harder to use later on," according to an Associated Press story reported widely yesterday.  (ABC News reported the story under the title "Distractions Impede Learning.")  The study demonstrated that distractions actually change the way a person learns, making the learning "less efficient and useful," according to UCLA psychology professor Russell A. Poldrack.

Poldrack explained that " 'the brain learns in two different ways. One, called declarative learning, involves the medial temporal lobe and deals with learning active facts that can be recalled and used with great flexibility. The second, involving the striatum, is called habit learning . . . . The problem . . .is that the two types of learning seem to be competing with each other, and when someone is distracted, habit learning seems to take over from declarative learning.' "

The implications for our students is that multitasking in class or in study times causes them to be inefficient regarding the most important kind of learning required by law school:  learning that can be used and applied later "with great flexibility."  Students, many of whom have grown up multitasking as they studied and multitasking on their computers while in class, are likely to continue the practice in law school, unaware of the distractions' negative effects.

One of the reasons academic support programs are so important is that they make explicit the new study approaches students must employ to be successful in learning the law.  Many of our students are shocked to find that their study methods, which had served them well prior to law school, are suddenly less effective than before. 

Two things probably account for the phenomenon:  first, learning to read and reason like a lawyer is significantly more demanding than the learning required in many undergraduate programs, so inefficiencies that students' natural intelligence compensated for in the past are being exposed as the compensation strategies break down; second, the type of learning is itself quite different from the learning to which they became accustomed in their earlier educational careers because law school learning focuses almost exclusively on gaining knowledge in order to apply it in new situations that demand both flexibility and precision.

The new findings are another reason we should encourage our students to abandon surfing the Internet and other distractions while in class or while studying.  Distractions interfere with precisely the kind of learning law school demands; we should be explicit about that effect so that students recognize and eliminate what may be among the most debilitating practices in their study methods. (dbw)

July 26, 2006 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Catch 'Em Doing Something Right

If your program uses teaching assistants, here's an effective technique to help them get off to a good start and build morale. Grab a small notepad and pen, and step quietly into each TA's workshop or study group.  Just watch from the back for a few minutes until you see the TA do something that is effective.  It needs to be something specific and concrete.

Then step back out and, right there in the hallway, take fifteen seconds to jot a note telling the TA what you saw and why you thought it was effective.  Use a "nice job!" tone in the note.  It needn't be more than a sentence or two.

Then drop the note into the TA's mailbox.  Little bits of encouragement like that can make a world of difference for the TA's confidence, and it gives you an excuse to say something positive with no qualifiers.

When I was a high school administrator and shared responsibility for supervising teachers, we used to always say, "Let's go out of our way to 'catch 'em doing something right.' "  For the first three weeks of the school year, we would each visit the classroom of every teacher a couple of times, each time staying until we had something concrete to compliment.  Each visit took no more than five or ten minutes, including the time to jot a note and drop it in the teacher's mailbox.

It was tremendously helpful in building trust.  The teachers began to see us as coaches instead of supervisors and knew we were not simply looking for instructional problems or for areas in which they should improve.  They began to look forward to our visits throughout the year and welcomed constructive criticism as the year progressed.  I think it went a long way toward helping us administrators keep healthy perspectives as well.

Such an approach should transfer nicely to a program that incorporates teaching assistants.  Most teaching assistants have little experience leading workshops and study groups, and their confidence is naturally a little shaky early on.  As novices, they will have plenty of room for improvement; but they will appreciate having someone who is out, first of all, to "catch 'em doing something right." (dbw)

July 24, 2006 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)